Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is expected to announce this week that the Pentagon will extend benefits to gay and lesbian families, supposedly as best it can without being in conflict with DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 that bans the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. But the move is set to please few on either side.
“Gay rights advocates have called for benefits including housing privileges, access to base recreational facilities and joint duty assignments for couples in the military,” the Washington Post reported today:
Legal experts say, however, that the Pentagon will be unable to extend more than 100 benefits while the Defense of Marriage Act remains in place.
The new guidelines will be departing Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta’s final imprint on the armed forces. They will also come on the heels of two landmark changes undertaken under his relatively short tenure: the rescinding of the ban on openly gay service members and the decision to allow women to serve in combat units.
Military officials have struggled with the flurry of equality dilemmas that have emerged since the ban on openly gay service troops was lifted in September 2011, following congressional repeal of the law known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
One LGBT service members’ group sees this as a half-measured move, and baffling.
“Secretary Panetta established a strong civil rights record long before taking office at the Pentagon, so his unwillingness to extend support and recognition to gay and lesbian service members and their families where it is clearly within his authority to do so has baffled many of us,” Army Veteran and OutServe-SLDN Executive Director Allyson Robinson said today via a statement. “We are hopeful that he will not take half-measures here; for him to grant anything less than the full extent of benefits available under current law would be an anticlimactic end to an otherwise exemplary record on civil rights.”
OutServe-SLDN notes “Panetta’s expected successor, former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, has committed to move quickly to extend these benefits if confirmed.”
Hagel‘s nomination is looking more likely than ever to be confirmed.
“Senator Hagel made history with his firm and unequivocal commitment of support to LGBT service members and their families, including his promise if confirmed to act expeditiously to grant all benefits available under current law,” Robinson added. “For Secretary Panetta to do anything less at this point would be to leave the job half done, leaving in place a self-imposed two-tier system that willingly denies to some service members benefits they have earned and treats them, their families, and their sacrifice as less than worthy.”
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